Coming Up Short

As hunters snatch up antelopes in Africa, some species’ horns are getting shorter. This decline in horn size could make trophy hunting a less effective conservation strategy, scientists warn.

Well-managed hunting zones can actually protect wildlife by providing large tracts of habitat. But this conservation technique “depends on the presence of animals with large trophies to satisfy the expectations of hunters,” a research team writes in Animal Conservation. If hunters keep bagging males with the biggest horns, the population’s average horn size could eventually drop.

In parts of Zimbabwe’s Matetsi Safari Area, the length of impala horns decreased by 4 percent between 1974 and 2008, the study authors found. Over the same time period, sable antelope horn length dropped by 6 percent. If the decline continues, hunters may take their business elsewhere, reducing the funds to protect those species.

Horns grew 14 percent longer in another hunted animal, the greater kudu. But the researchers speculate that this unexpected pattern emerged because hunting pressure on the species has dropped. “[M]ales may survive to older ages, and therefore grow longer horns,” they write. Roberta Kwok | 15 April 2013

Source: Crosmary, W.-G. et al. 2013. Trophy hunting in Africa: long-term trends in antelope horn size. Animal Conservation doi: 10.1111/acv.12043.

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